- A Pacific Northwest health system has launched an on-demand mHealth app that’s designed to give consumers quick access to care for common health issues.
Providence Health & Services recently rolled out the SmartExam service for Oregon residents. Billed as a “virtual physician’s assistant,” the app, developed by Portland-based Bright.md, uses a store-and-forward telemedicine platform to link consumers with Providence Health nurse practitioners and doctors for treatment of simple and routine concerns.
“It’s similar to- e-mailing your own doctor,” says Benjamin LeBlanc, MD, Chief Medical Officer for the Providence Medical Group, who’s been overseeing the statewide launch after a successful pilot last year for employees and selected groups. ”From the patient’s perspective, this gives them simple access to routine care.”
The service, which costs $20 and is covered in full for Providence Health Plan members, represents one of the fastest growing trends in telehealth. Health systems and hospitals across the country are moving to store-and-forward platforms for quick, non-acute care issues like colds, infections and rashes that would otherwise clog up ERs, clinics or doctor’s offices or be ignored altogether.
The routine is simple. The consumer logs on to the health system through the app and fills out an online questionnaire. An advanced practice clinician on the other end receives an alert that a patient is waiting, reviews the online questionnaire and any other data (including the patient’s medical record and submitted photographs) and sends back a diagnosis. The practitioner can send a message or even make a quick phone call if more information is needed, and the patient can be asked to seek immediate care or come in for an in-person appointment if necessary.
LeBlanc says Providence Health has been using telehealth and telemedicine for several years, with services that include online video visits and other digital and connected health offerings. But they wanted something that could be run quickly and easily through the system’s network of retail care clinics, giving patients the opportunity to seek care from their home, car, office or other location instead of trudging to the nearest hospital, office or clinic.
“We’ve tried to remain patient-centered as much as we can, and our patients have said they’re interested in all the options,” he says. “We’re making it as easy as possible to get the care they need when they need it.”
By tapping into Providence Health’s network of retail care clinics, LeBlanc says SmartExam also fits quite nicely into a workflow – and a provider group – accustomed to on-demand care. Clinicians are able to work online care into their normal workflows.
Bright.md, whose health system clients include the Greenville Health System in South Carolina, Presbyterian Healthcare Services in New Mexico, the California-based Adventist Health System and Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, was actually founded by a former Providence Health physician, Ray Constantini in 2014.
At the time, he said he’d become disenchanted with telehealth programs that were more complex and time-consuming than the typical visit to the doctor’s office, and sought to create in SmartExam an on-demand service that would take no longer than two minutes.
LeBlanc sees that simplicity as something that appeals to both patients and providers.
“There’s a relatively defined set of things that we are going to be able to handle with a store-and-forward service, so we generally know what’s coming in,” he says. With everything laid out in front of them and access to standards-based care guidelines and AI tools, “you’re looking at three or four minutes of a doctor’s time for critical thinking.”